Curiosity update: Until we meet again

2490ML0132270010904925E01_DXXX-br2Sols 2506-08, August 23, 2019, update by MSL scientist Michelle Minitti: Today was the final opportunity to actively command Curiosity before the Sun comes between us and Mars. Most of the instruments are safely stored for the solar conjunction break, but intrepid Navcam was available for some last-minute science observations. Navcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, look for dust devils, and look for clouds in a series of images and movies on Sol 2506. After that, the remote sensing mast will turn its gaze down toward the workspace to guard against dust accumulation on the mast instruments.

While Curiosity will not receive commands from Earth during solar conjunction, she has already been loaded with a series of commands to keep her systematically gathering data for the next two weeks. REMS and RAD will acquire multiple measurements each sol, DAN will acquire one long passive measurement each sol, and Navcam and the front and rear Hazcams will each acquire one image per day. The mast’s downward-looking view includes the “Glen Etive” drill hole, allowing Navcam to monitor any changes in the cuttings around the drill hole… [More at link, including links to MSL science team papers here (PDF) and here]

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What’s solar conjunction and why does it matter?

solar_conjunctionThe daily chatter between antennas here on Earth and those on NASA spacecraft at Mars is about to get much quieter for a few weeks.

That’s because Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun, a period known as Mars solar conjunction. The Sun expels hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space. During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars, corrupting commands and resulting in unexpected behavior from our deep space explorers.

To be safe, engineers hold off on sending commands when Mars disappears far enough behind the Sun’s corona that there’s increased risk of radio interference.

“It’s that time again,” said Roy Gladden, manager of the Mars Relay Network at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Our engineers have been preparing our spacecraft for conjunction for months. They’ll still be collecting science data at Mars, and some will attempt to send that data home. But we won’t be commanding the spacecraft out of concern that they could act on a corrupted command.” [More at link]

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THEMIS: Lava ridge on flank of Pavonis Mons

Pavonis Mons lava ribbons (THEMIS_IOTD_20190826)THEMIS Image of the Day, August 26, 2019. Today’s VIS image shows lava flows near the flank of Pavonis Mons. Pavonis Mons is one of the three large aligned Tharsis region volcanoes.

At top is a fine example of a lava channel that stands above the surface — sunlight is coming from the right, as the nearby crater shows.

Explore more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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Australian Outback as testbed for Mars

PIA23275-16This week, scientists from NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 mission joined their counterparts from the joint European-Russian ExoMars mission in an expedition to the Australian Outback, one of the most remote, arid regions on the planet. Both teams came to hone their research techniques before their missions launch to the Red Planet next summer in search of signs of past life on Mars.

The researchers know that any proof of past life on Mars will more than likely be almost microscopic in size. That’s where the Pilbara region of North West Australia comes in.

“The Pilbara Outback is home to the oldest confirmed fossilized lifeforms on Earth, called stromatolites,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “If we can better understand how these fossils came to be here – and the nearby geological signposts that help point the way to them – we’ll be that much more prepared when hunting for signs of life on Mars.” [More at link]

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HiRISE: Narrow troughs

ESP_055058_1550Narrow troughs. What exactly are the nature of these thin, narrow troughs? They might may be part of a system of dikes that came from the same magma source that fed the whole area in Thaumasia Planum, just south of Valles Marineris.

HiRISE Picture of the Day archive. [More at links]

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InSight: ‘Rolling Stones Rock’ on Mars

PIA23349For decades, the music of The Rolling Stones has had a global reach here on Earth. Now, the band’s influence extends all the way to Mars. The team behind NASA’s InSight lander has named a Martian rock after the band: ‘Rolling Stones Rock.’

The Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood – were delighted with the news and commented, “What a wonderful way to celebrate the ‘Stones No Filter’ tour arriving in Pasadena. This is definitely a milestone in our long and eventful history. A huge thank you to everyone at NASA for making it happen.”

A little larger than a golf ball, the rock appeared to have rolled about 3 feet (1 meter) on Nov. 26, 2018, propelled by InSight’s thrusters as the spacecraft touched down on Mars to study the Red Planet’s deep interior. In images taken by InSight the next day, several divots in the orange-red soil can be seen trailing Rolling Stones Rock. It’s the farthest NASA has seen a rock roll while landing a spacecraft on another planet.

“The name Rolling Stones Rock is a perfect fit,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington. “Part of NASA’s charter is to share our work with different audiences. When we found out the Stones would be in Pasadena, honoring them seemed like a fun way to reach fans all over the world.” [More at link]

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THEMIS: Arsia Mons lava flows

Arsia Mons lava flows (THEMIS_IOTD_20190823)THEMIS Image of the Day, August 23, 2019. Arsia Mons is the southernost of the large aligned Tharsis volcanoes. Flows originating at Arsia Mons cover a vast region. The flows in this VIS image are part of the SW flow apron of Arsia Mons. The Tharsis trend runs NE/SW thru the centers of the volcanoes creating regions of greater tectonic and volcanic activities along this trend.

Explore more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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Curiosity update: Packing up for our journey behind the Sun

NLB_618724873EDR_F0763002NCAM00341M_-br2Sols 2504-05, August 22, 2019, update by MSL scientist Mariah Baker: The days leading up to a big trip can be hectic. There are preparations to be made, belongings to be packed, extra work to do in anticipation of being away from the computer. And it’s no different for a robot on the surface of Mars. With solar conjunction quickly approaching, the team is focused on getting the rover prepared for its journey behind the sun, during which time all communications between Earth and the rover will cease. Today the team was faced with the interesting challenge of having to fit all the activities that needed to be completed before conjunction in the limited time available before the rover had to start ‘packing up’ its instruments for the two-week hiatus. When planning began, the science team was informed that we would not be allowed to use Mastcam or ChemCam after the first sol, in order to get those instruments turned off and into a safe position before… [More at link]

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Latest weather at Gale Crater and Elysium Planitia

Daily Elysium charts and data (temperature, wind speed, atmospheric pressure) here.

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HiRISE: Wonderful world of Arabia Terra

ESP_011699_1910The wonderful world of Arabia Terra. It’s one of our favorite regions, not the least because of the incredible layered sedimentary rock but also for the composition of the bedrock. Arabia Terra might be one of the oldest regions on Mars.

HiRISE Picture of the Day archive. [More at links]

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